Writing Mysteries - Harris Burdick Style!

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SWBAT write a mystery story based on a picture in the book "The Mysteries of Harris Burdick" by Chris Van Allsburg.

Big Idea

We will use the inspiring illustrations in "The Mysteries of Harris Burdick" by Chris Van Allsburg to write our own mystery stories.


Lesson Opener

30 minutes

If you have never read "The Mysteries of Harris Burdick" by Chris Van Allsburg, I HIGHLY recommend you check it out.  The illustrations are fabulous! They are literally thought provoking and spark imagination and creativity.  

I will start the lesson out my telling them the story of Harris Burdick in my own words.  (His story is at the beginning of the book.)  In a mysterious voice, I will retell the story.  After telling the story and answering all inevitable questions, I will show the pictures created by Harris Burdick by using the doc camera to project the imaged on the smart-board. We will read the title and caption to each of the images and have a discussion as to what is happening in each of the pictures.  At this point I have not told them that I will have them choose a story to write about because I want them to focus on what is going on in each picture and not be distracted by trying to choose.


"The Mysteries of Harris Burdick" by Chris Van Allsburg

Van Allsburg, C. (1984). The Mysteries of Harris Burdick. New York, NY : Houghton Mifflin  Company

Group Project

20 minutes

After we have discussed each picture, I will let them know that they are now going to have the chance to write their own mysteries.  We will go through the pictures again, this time for the purpose of choosing a picture to inspire their mystery.  I will also give them the option of writing about Harris Burdick himself and continuing the mystery of his story.

We will also choose one of the pictures to write about as a class.  Together as a class we will fill out the "Building a Mystery" graphic organizer.

Independent Project

20 minutes

Once we have filled out the graphic organizer as a class, we will discuss the elements of a great mystery.  The students will then being to organize their own thoughts by filling out a graphic organizer. (Located in the resources.)

Lesson Closer

5 minutes

Having taught this unit in past years, I know the students will be anxious to share their thoughts and ideas, which picture they have chosen, etc.  I have devoted a few minutes to at the end of this lesson for students to share their thoughts and ideas in their groups.